Isaiah 9: 2 – 7
Titus 2: 11 – 14
Luke 2: 1 – 20
When I came to the community now slightly over thirty years ago, we had just begun the process of writing our new Rule of Life. The old Rule had been respectfully laid aside, and we were experimenting by reading portions of the Rules of Life of other communities. We wanted to hear other voices, as we practiced using our own voice, as we began to articulate our own vision for our community.
But just as we listened to other voices, and began to listen to our own voice, we would often hear the voice of our original Rule of Life in the background. How could we not hear it? We had, after all, been listening to it on a nearly daily basis for almost 100 years by that time. Over the decades it had seeped into our corporate, and individual souls and would emerge in conversations, and reflections about the new Rule of Life that we were working on. Even though we were no longer reading our old Rule when I came to the community, certain phrases became familiar to me, so much so that thirty years later, they still crop up every once in a while in my prayer, and conversation.
One such phrase comes from the original chapter on Poverty where we read if the Society in any place is poor. Look to God to do great things by it. God has chosen the poor, the weak things of the world to confound the mighty. Think of the blessed poverty of Bethlehem, Nazareth, Calvary. It is this image of the poverty of Bethlehem, Nazareth, Calvary which arrests my attention this Christmas.
1 John 1: 1 – 4
Luke 24: 36 – 53
There are a few of us in the community who will remember, and there may be others of you who will have heard the story, probably countless times, of how our brother Tom, when he was the Superior, used to pray at the Mid-Day Office for the gift of martyrdom to be given to our community. Some of us were quite ready to grant him his prayer, and make him the first official martyr of the Society. (As an aside, I say official martyr, because while the African martyr Bernard Mizeki was not a member of our community, he was certainly a product of our Society, as he was: introduced to the Christian faith; prepared for baptism; trained as a catechist and sent out on mission where he was later martyred, by members of our community in South Africa. Because of that, I like to think of him as our martyr.)
We say in our Rule of Life in the chapter on Life Profession that the grace to surrender our lives to God through our vows has been given to us in Baptism whereby we die with Christ and are raised with him. It is the same grace that gives strength to martyrs to submit gladly to death as witnesses of the resurrection. From the beginning monks and nuns have been encouraged to understand their own commitment in the light of the freedom and trust that enables martyrs to give up their lives to the glory of God. The witness of the martyrs should never be far from our minds as we go forward in the vowed life day by day.
Christmas is here – this silent and holy night. We are all gathered here in this lovely church to be still – before a great and mighty wonder. “While all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, thy Almighty Word leapt down from heaven, from thy royal throne.” (Wisdom 18:14) And we have come to adore Him.
Spread out before us is this beautiful crèche, lovingly made from olive wood by woodcarvers in Bethlehem. I love to just stand and gaze at it – with wide-eyed wonder, like a child. I love the flickering candles. It reminds me that it all happened in darkest night. Those shepherds were keeping watch over their flock by night. And that deepest darkness was suddenly shattered by an intense light. “The angel of the Lord stood among them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them.” (Luke 2:9)